Symphony executes tight performance of early pieces

info@islandpacket.comOctober 28, 2011 

Steven Branyon, a longtime musician in the Lowcountry, provided this review at the request of the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra.

The Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra performed the second concert of its 30th season Monday evening at First Presbyterian Church. For this concert, the symphony welcomed guest conductor Sean Newhouse to the stage.

The program included Jean-Joseph Mouret's "Suite of Symphonies, No. 1"; Arcangelo Corelli's "Concerto Grosso in F Major, Op. 6, No. 2"; Antonio Vivaldi's "Concerto for Two Trumpets in C Major"; Ottorino Respighi's "Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No. 1"; Johann Sebastian Bach's "Air from Suite No. 3"; and Wolfgang Mozart's "Symphony in D (after the Posthorn Serenade, K. 320)."

I was glad to see these earlier compositions included in the programming, and I would be happy to see more appearances of earlier music interspersed with what is called "standard literature." The Mouret piece offered the audience a chance to hear the work in its entirety, instead of the small portion used for the PBS program "Masterpiece Theater."

In the Corelli piece, I was especially drawn to the slower bridge sections as opposed to the "grosso" sections, which I thought were not as tight as they could have been. This could be due to the transparency of early music. It is not unheard of for musicians to be fluent executing certain music styles while having difficulty in others. In this concert, it seemed to me that the orchestra was under-rehearsed, with only three rehearsals as compared to four for the opening concert. Maybe the symphony should consider a minimum of four rehearsals when preparing such ambitious programs.

During the Vivaldi segment, the trumpet soloists were placed about 25 feet apart even though the music demanded that they enter one after the other in duo. This is not the first time in music history that instrumentalists and choirs alike have been required to perform in these arrangements. I think of Giovanni Gabrieli's work being performed in the great Cathedrals using all the transepts, yet sounding in perfect unity. However, I was more impressed by the fact that the trumpet parts for Mouret and Corelli were just as demanding as the Vivaldi part, and yet the performers were able to keep going with stamina.

The Respighi piece was the highlight of the program. Everything about this work was very tight. I was only vaguely familiar with this suite. I therefore only knew an arrangement of the original. This is like studying the Bible, a translation of a translation. It can get you into trouble when trying to find exactly what was meant. I was very pleased with the precision with which difficult rhythmic passages were executed -- very clear and clean. The changes in tempi were also very clear and convincing.

Respighi's biographers have not always been kind when making reference back to "archaic" styles, stating that his later works did not maintain his earlier standards and were more decorative than scholarly. However, I believe he just became comfortable with himself, his abilities and his limitations, and was constantly exploring new possibilities. This is music composed from the heart. Can we hear more from this collection in the future?

There are some works, such as the Bach "Air," that we never seem to tire of. This performance was no exception. Excepting a few upper notes in the first section with the violins, it was beautifully performed.

I had hoped that the Mozart segment would end the program with a flourish, but this was not to be the case. So let us look forward to the promise of the Nov. 14 program and the music of Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

Steven Branyon is a native of York and a graduate of North Greenville University, Winthrop University and Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J. He is organist/choirmaster at All Saints Episcopal Church on Hilton Head.

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